Customers are increasingly taking to social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to publicly ask customer service related questions or to vent their anger about products defects, missed delivery dates or poor experiences. But how do you manage these very public conversations with your customer base without damaging your brand image?

In this article, we discuss the 6 Golden Rules for dealing with public customer service questions and complaints across your social media channels.  

1. Choose your channel for customer service 

All good social media strategies should have different content for each channel. But certain channels naturally lend themselves better to customer service support that others. Image-led Instagram typically receives a low number of customer service related queries, for example.

It is a fact that when customers would like to engage social media to resolve questions fast, they typically turn to Facebook and Twitter. But it is often difficult to be on top of both channels at the same time.

To concentrate your efforts, it is possible to encourage customer service related questions and complaints to either Twitter or Facebook.

For example, if you have lots of customers who use Twitter, you may like to set up a dedicated customer service Twitter account. This would then leave Facebook to be more image-led or event based, and purposely less customer experience focused.

Just be mindful that if you do set up a Twitter account for customer service, be sure you set expectations in the bio about when you will answer and what the account is for.

Of course, you will invariably have to provide customer service support across all social media channels, but being deliberate in the way you set up your accounts can help you concentrate your customer service focus.

2. Incorporate social media into your wider customer service plan 

Customers get frustrated when a social media community manager asks them to re-direct their question to a different non-social media channel, typically phone or email. In short, if customers have chosen to use social media to ask a question, they should be responded to on that social media channel.

To ensure that customers are responded to on their chosen channel of engagement, you need to ensure that your social media community manager has the same tools and resources available as your regular customer service team.

If this isn’t possible, you need to ensure that there is a back-end process in place so that even if your community manager doesn’t have access to customer service tools directly, customers can be responded to in a seamless fashion, on social media. 

As an example, I recently contacted MAC make up with a customer service query and was pleasantly surprised at how they were able to answer a complex customer service question on Twitter. However, this integrated approach unfortunately isn’t yet the norm.

3. Take difficult or private conversations out of the public sphere ASAP

It sounds obvious, but even if the customer is wrong or they are being on purposely difficult, it’s vital to acknowledge the issue and take the conversation from the public to the private sphere, via direct message. A discussion on the finer points of a complaint or issue in the public sphere can not only be damaging to your brand, but is also pretty boring for your community.

A simple strategy is to publicly acknowledge the customer issue with an apology (see below), ask the customer to follow you (if necessary, to send a direct message) and inform them that you have sent them a direct message to resolve the issue. You can then get into the nitty gritty detail of their complaint in a one to one private conversation, via direct message.

Likewise, it goes without saying that you should never discuss private details such as order numbers, previous complaints or account details in public. Take this conversation into the private sphere, via direct message.

4. When dealing with complaints say sorry early, and be sincere in your apology 

Publicly saying sorry at the earliest opportunity to customers who have complained about an issue in connection with your brand is an easy way to diffuse a situation.

However, it’s vital that you don’t repeat the same sorry message to different complaints otherwise you risk being perceived as being insincere, which could further escalate the issue. Take time to properly write a bespoke message to each customer (or even have multiple “I’m sorry” templates at the ready). This approach may be time consuming but ultimately if customers see you are putting in the effort it could help to bring calm to a situation.

Also, remember not to waffle in your apology too much. Get to the point. Also, don’t blame others too much; take it on the chin and customers will respect you more for putting your hand up and admitting a mistake.

5. Always respond to questions and complaints, and be prompt about it

The recommended response time for any customer service related question or complaint varies from business to business, sector to sector. But as a very general rule, we recommend replying within 24 hours. It’s also important not to be too focused on how quickly you respond, it’s just as important that you communicate exactly what you are doing to resolve the question or complaint.

On this note, always respond publicly to any customer feedback. Negative reviews or comments should always be replied to as its shows potential customers that you care about customer service and are a responsible business with resources in place.  

Positive feedback should also be replied to as it builds an engaged community. Depending upon your brand and social media tone of voice, which you should have developed in your social media strategy, it can even be appropriate to reply with simply an emoji.

6. Have a crisis plan for when things go wrong

It goes without saying that every business who wants to take social media seriously requires a crisis plan for when things go wrong on social media (e.g. your account is hacked, customer complaints snowball) or customers start to vent their anger publicly on social media about a wider business issue (e.g. product or service problems).

The crisis plan should at the very least include a response flowchart, guidelines on who internally to escalate the issue with and how to publicly respond.

In the time of a crisis, it’s also important to be transparent with your customers while minimising brand damage by keeping conversations restricted to certain channels – this is a very hard act to balance and one that may need expert help to implement.



About Our Guest Author

Sophia Littledale is the founder of The Social Consultant Ltd – a full-service boutique social media agency specialising in strategy, content creation and community management. Sophia has worked in the social media industry since 2007 and her past industry work includes campaigns for brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Heineken, V&A, Revlon, and NBCU and thus she has a wide range of experience in handling public customer service questions and complaints across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Find Sophia on LinkedIn here.


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